The Church in England and Wales is losing its Catholic identity, a senior bishop said this week.
Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue of Lancaster made the claim in a 92-page document highly critical of the direction of the Church in the past 40 years.
The document, described by several parish priests as "dynamite", addresses declining vocations, falling Mass attendance and the future of the Church.
The loss of Catholic identity stems from the rejection of Church teaching coupled with a wide-spread misinterpretation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the document said.The bishop challenged both the laity and clergy to re-examine what it means to be Catholic and to return to the "sources of our Catholic identity".
Bishop O'Donoghue wrote: "I am convinced that if we are to wake from the weariness that is taking hold of the Church in this country we must return to the sources of our Catholic identity and mission to renew our strength and vitality."In this way we will through the grace of the Holy Spirit be in a position to counter the negative and constraining influence of secularism and hedonism that is currently dominating our society."
The document, entitled Fit for Mission? Church was published on Wednesday and comes on the heels of Fit for Mission? Schools which called for stronger Catholic ethos in diocesan schools and won high praise from the Vatican.
Written for the diocese but also for "all Catholics who love the Church and care deeply about the future of Catholicism", it marks the end of Bishop O'Donoghue's 16-month diocesan review.
It began by asking painful questions about declining Mass attendance, a falling rate of Catholic marriages and baptisms, and lack of vocations and energy in the Church. It concluded that the Church had distanced itself from the true intentions of the Second Vatican Council and the tradition of the Church.
Bishop O'Donoghue, 74, said: "Though we are strengthened and healed by the Lord through his Word and Sacraments, the majority of us are not responding to Our Lord's call to go out on his mission of hope. In particular, mission in the parishes with families and young people are undeveloped and under developed with a few exceptions. The passion to serve the Lord is noticeably absent in many cases. There seems to be at times a tiredness and reticence to preach the Gospel.
"One of the reasons why we are 'gathered but not sent' is due to a lack of confidence and knowledge of the Catholic faith. This results from a lack of ongoing formation and trained lay catechists and prayer... our Church often seems inward looking, self-involved and detached from everyday life of our wider communities.
"It appears that many of us have forgotten the basic truth about the nature of the Church, that we have been gathered as a people of God not to be served but rather to serve God and each other, especially the weak and the poor."
In a step-by-step analysis of the problems and successes of the Second Vatican Council, document by document, Bishop O'Donoghue identified the need for a renewal in the Church principally through a reaffirmation of faith, obedience to the bishops in communion with the Pope, sound doctrine and sound liturgy.
The bishop wrote: "As I have reflected on the great issues facing this generation in the life of the Church, I have become more and more convinced that the answers are to be found through a prayerful, faithful and creative engagement with the Deposit of Faith presented in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and its great summary, the Catechism of the Catholic Church."
The bishop criticised Catholics who have strayed away from Church teaching in the name of the Second Vatican Council.
He said: "We have all witnessed with alarm many who profess to be Catholics disavowing the Church's teaching authority, particularly that of the Pope and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dismissing apostolic traditions and the doctrines of the Fathers and giving the place of honour to the fashionable opinions of society."
Quoting the theologian Henri de Lubac, he said that in order to truly implement the Second Vatican Council "it is necessary for all of us to re-gain a Catholic sense of balance between change and continuity through maintaining the Catholic understanding of the Church which in 'practice is a continuous tradition and a living present authority'."
The first half deals with questions of direction and identity while the second half deals with the Council. In the section entitled "Have we forgotten what it is to be Catholic?" Bishop O'Donoghue said that people who deliberately missed Mass on Sunday, denied sin and did not go to Confession were not fully Catholic.
"Being 'Catholic' has the definite meaning of embracing the totality of Christ as he expresses Himself through His Catholic Church. The opposite of being Catholic would be to set ourselves as judges of the faith of the Church, to pick and choose what takes our fancy and reject what we dislike," he said.
He criticised the ascendancy of "privatised" faith which focused too much "on the subjective personal experience of faith" and overrides the "objective, revealed truth of the Church".
Justice and peace, he said, are not more important than the Mass, and the Church's teaching on the sanctity of life is not optional.
Bishop O'Donoghue insisted that the Eucharist had to be at the centre of the faith and that adoration should be encouraged. He also argued for closer adherence to Canon Law, and a renewed focus on salvation and vocations as well as use of the Catechism.
In the second half of the document the bishop argued that undue focus has been given to a man-centred interpretation of the Council, which led to popular and incorrect interpretations never intended by the Council Fathers.
Bishop O'Donoghue said: "The Council sought to give primacy to God in its proceedings, and not primacy to man as many popular interpretations have sought to argue through giving emphasis to the novelty of the Pastoral Constitution on the Modern World."
The bishop also laid the part of the blame on the bishops themselves for delegating their responsibilities to committees of lay people.
He said that agencies and departments of the bishops' conference were acting autonomously - but did not always fully uphold Church teaching in their dealings with secular authorities. The structures of the conference were preventing bishops from speaking individually on matters of importance to the church and society, he said.
He also said that the failure of bishops to reach agreement on issues had often resulted in inadequate statements or interventions instead of the witness that was "so urgently needed".
Bishop O'Donoghue said he particularly wanted to register his "disappointment" that the bishops failed to produce a "collegial response to the government's legislation on same-sex adoption" threatening Catholic adoption agencies with closure unless they agree to assess homosexual couples as potential adoptive parents.
"The problem of attempting to arrive at a consensus among bishop with sometimes divergent views is that episcopal conference statements and documents have a tendency to be often flat and safe at a time at a time when we need passionate and courageous public statements that dare to speak the full truth in love," he said.
No responsibility or liability shall attach itself to either myself or to the blogspot ‘Clerical Whispers’ for any or all of the articles placed here.
The placing of an article hereupon does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.